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The odd silver tools and stained glass windows were familiar, and Harry immediately recognized that they’d been sent to Dumbledore’s office. The faint light of dawn was just beginning to stream through the windows, casting odd shapes upon the floor.

Harry’s hand found Draco’s almost by instinct, and Draco squeezed back just as hard as Harry held him.

Harry turned and looked around, confirming his suspicions - he and Draco had been the only ones sent back to Hogwarts.

“I hope the others are okay,” Harry said quietly, his breath catching. He’d left them in that room when he’d taken off after Draco. The Order had been there, so that was a comfort, but he had no idea what happened to them.

“Dumbledore - he’s… preventing us from being arrested?” Draco asked, sounding somewhere between disbelieving and amazed.

“At least for now,” Harry said. “I don’t know what he’ll do later, but for now…”

“He protected us,” Draco said, sounding astounded.

Harry nodded.

“I got my father arrested,” Draco said quietly, his voice shaking, and his grip on Harry’s hand suddenly turned vice-like. “And your godfather, too. I’m sorry.”

Harry could only hope that Fudge was too distracted by the revelation that Voldemort had actually returned before he remembered that he’d promised to give Sirius Black the dementor’s kiss on sight. He had to tell himself that Dumbledore was there, along with Kingsley. Surely they could prevent anything truly awful from happening to Sirius.

“How am I going to tell Theo that I got his father arrested, too?” Harry asked, instead, trying to distract himself from the fact that Sirius was likely headed back to Azkaban. “Or that I… used that curse on him?”

“What was that, anyway?” Draco asked curiously. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Harry sighed. “It’s something I learned from one of the books in the… room,” he answered. “Back in the summer. I’d never gotten a chance to actually try it on… a real person.” He shook his head. “‘Return of Suffering.’ It’s supposed to make someone feel every bit of pain they’ve ever caused someone else.”

“That seems… like it would be quite effective against Death Eaters, then,” Draco said, and there was something odd in his voice. Abruptly, Harry realized what Draco was actually doing.

He was trying to distract himself - and Harry - from the fact that they could both be facing Azkaban.

“If they try to take us, we can run,” Harry said. “If you want to, I mean.”

Draco froze and stared at Harry for a moment before shaking his head. “Why did you throw yourself under the bus, Harry?” he asked. “You and your stupid lack of survival instinct… they still didn’t have proof of what I’d actually done, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my father, it’s how to get away with things.” He let out a huff. "Malfoys are slippery. In fact, I believe we're known for it."

Harry let out a quiet laugh. “That’s definitely true,” he said before sighing deeply. “And… maybe it’s the last of the Gryffindor in me,” he said. “I just… I couldn’t let them take you away.” He stared down at their linked hands and realized how true those words were. The threat of losing Draco seemed to have driven a good deal of Harry’s actions that night - attacking Bellatrix and Lucius, cursing Nott, and admitting that he’d used the dark arts - it had all been for Draco.

“You… you just keep telling me that I should use my name,” Harry continued. “So... I did. I figured… maybe they wouldn’t arrest me since they finally know that Voldemort is back...”

“Or now we’re both going to be arrested for it,” Draco said, shaking his head. “Maybe they’ll take pity and put us in the cell between my father and Black.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to that. He wanted to comfort Draco, but he knew that it was incredibly likely that they would face some heavy repercussions from his actions.

“Harry…” Draco said. “I have -”

He was cut off as the fireplace flared to life. Harry instinctively drew his wand from his pocket; he still felt geared up and on high alert.

But it was Dumbledore that stepped through. He paused, staring at the two students with a frown. For the first time that Harry could remember, Dumbledore looked every bit of his age. He seemed exhausted, worn down, and sorrowful.

“Where are the others? And what’s happened to Sirius?” Harry immediately asked. “Is he okay? Are they?”

A light seemed to appear in Dumbledore’s eyes at the words. “They’re all fine, Harry,” he replied. “I’ve managed to convince the Minister to keep your godfather in a holding cell within the Ministry rather than being sent to Azkaban - at least for now.”

Harry let out a sigh of relief, nodding.

“And what about us?” Draco asked, his voice tight, and when Harry glanced back at him, his expression was pinched. “Sir?” he added, almost as an afterthought.

Dumbledore peered at Draco over his glasses. “What do you mean, Mr. Malfoy?”

Draco sneered. “Should we expect a holding cell?” he asked. “Or Azkaban?”

The light that had appeared before dulled and Dumbledore shook his head. “The two of you will not be arrested,” he said.

“I used the dark arts, though,” Draco said.

“We both did,” Harry quickly added.

“And during the last war, some dark arts were permitted as a form of self-defense,” Dumbledore replied. “Since the Ministry can no longer deny that Voldemort has returned, it is safe to say that we are, once again, at war.”

Despite his relief at hearing that Aurors wouldn’t be coming to arrest them, a chill ran down Harry’s spine at his words.

“Mr. Malfoy, I hate to ask this of you considering what you’ve both just been through,” Dumbledore said, “but would you mind giving Harry and myself a moment alone? There are a few things that we need to -”

“No,” Harry said, scowling. “Draco stays.”

Dumbledore stared at him, his beard twitching just slightly, and Harry didn’t have a hope of reading his expression. “Harry, I do think it would be best -”

“If you…” Harry paused, trying to choose his words carefully. “If you think you can’t trust Draco, do I have to remind you that he just helped me?” he said. “He directly defied his father - and Voldemort -”

“Harry…” Draco murmured.

But Dumbledore was shaking his head. “I am sorry, Harry. That isn’t at all what I was trying to imply,” he said. “I simply mean that what we have to discuss may be… upsetting, and I wanted to offer you privacy.”

Harry blinked, and he felt Draco give his hand a comforting squeeze. “Are the others back yet?” Draco asked. “Blaise and the others?”

Dumbledore nodded. “You should find them in the entrance hall,” he replied.

Draco put an arm on his shoulder before looking at Dumbledore. “Were Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle also arrested?” Draco asked.

Dumbledore paused, glancing between Draco and Harry for a moment before responding. “They were.”

Harry’s eyes widened. That was four of his roommates that had been directly affected by his actions that night. He couldn’t bring himself to regret that Death Eaters had been arrested, but he'd managed to upheave the lives of nearly all of his roommates.

“Blaise and I will tell the others what happened,” Draco said quietly. “And we’ll break the news to Theo so you don’t have to.” He then pulled Harry into a hug and his voice lowered to barely a whisper. “You can tell me whatever you want to later.”

Harry buried his face into Draco’s shoulder and nodded. “Okay.”

Draco released Harry, shot a look at Dumbledore, and then left.

The clip of the door shutting behind him sounded ominous, and Harry slowly turned back to face Dumbledore with trepidation.

The exhausted demeanor to Dumbledore seemed to grow a hundredfold, and the old wizard sighed as he strode around his desk and pulled out the chair. “Harry, I despise using words such as these, but…” He sat down, clasping his hands in front of him. “... I never thought I would find myself so disappointed in you.” He waved his hand and a chair appeared in front of his desk, a clear invitation.

Harry scowled and crossed his arms. He took a few steps forward to stand behind the offered chair but did not sit down. “Is that what you didn’t want Draco to hear?” he asked, his tone biting.

“It is not, but it is nonetheless something that we must speak about,” Dumbledore replied. “Do you realize how dangerous meddling in the dark arts is?”

Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and he somehow also managed to bite back a scathing comment that was on the tip of his tongue.

Dumbledore apparently wanted a response, though, because he said, “Harry?”

He wanted to get Harry to stop, Harry realized, but he was too late. Snape had told him, Andromeda had told him - there was nothing that Dumbledore could do about it now, and so Harry saw no reason to not tell him the truth. “I’ve done more than meddle,” he said, “sir.

Dumbledore’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly, and Harry held his gaze unflinchingly. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve declared for the dark,” Harry said simply.

The expression that came over Dumbledore’s face was unmistakably sad. “Oh, Harry,” he said, his voice quiet. “What have you done?”

“I just told you,” Harry said without thinking, his tone a bit sardonic. “I’ve become a dark wizard.”

It was strange but Dumbledore looked like he was grieving, and despite Harry’s recent irritation with him, a pang went through his chest. Dumbledore was unfairly biased against the dark arts, but the fact that Dumbledore’s heart was breaking for Harry made it seem like the headmaster actually did care for him.

“Oh, Harry,” Dumbledore said, shaking his head. “I am so sorry I wasn’t there for you this year. I should have been -”

“Yeah, you should have,” Harry bit out. “But even if you had, I don’t know if you would have been able to stop this.”

“I should have found a way to remove you from Slytherin the moment you were re-sorted there -”

“I’m perfectly fine with being in Slytherin,” Harry said, cutting him off. “And if you’re implying that they're the reason I started messing around with the dark arts… just… don’t.” He shook his head. “I was already looking into it before I was even expelled.”

“I thought you would have missed your old house, though?”

“I did. I do,” Harry said. “I mean… I value the time I spent in Gryffindor, but I think… I think Slytherin is where I should have gone in the first place.”

“Why is that, Harry?” Dumbledore asked. “I recall you standing in this very office years ago, fretting over how the hat had wanted you in Slytherin at all.”

“People change,” Harry bit out.

“Ah, yes. We all do,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “I certainly am not the same person I was when I was in my youth.”

“But you’re still the same person,” Harry said. “Your attitude might change, or the way you view the world might change… but you’ll always still be the same person you’ve always been.”

“That can be a very bleak outlook, Harry,” Dumbledore replied. “That sounds like we’re incapable of becoming better people.”

“That isn’t true, though. It also means that even if a good person does something wrong, they could still be a good person,” Harry said, shrugging. “No matter how many times a snake sheds his skin, he’s still a snake.” He couldn’t help but smirk at that. “But shedding skin gets rid of the bad and lets the snake grow.”

Dumbledore looked startled at Harry’s words before he offered Harry a smile. “Sometimes the wisdom of youth surprises me.”

“It’s pretty much exactly what you said to the entire school at the beginning of year,” Harry said, scowling. “When you basically told everyone to not forget that I was a Gryffindor… despite the fact that I was in the evil house now.”

Dumbledore actually looked abashed. “Harry, I -”

Harry plowed on. “All year, I’ve had people wanting me to act more like a Gryffindor,” he said. “But it was the Gryffindor in me… that’s why we went to the Ministry.” He felt like he was bubbling over, and his tone started rising. “It was stupid... and brash, and hard-headed. I put my friends in danger for no reason, and I'm the reason that Sirius has been arrested, and… most of my housemates are now going to have fathers in Azkaban - although I’m not entirely sorry about that. But it's my fault that Sirius...” He paused, swallowing, and he looked away, staring unseeingly at all the silver bits and bobs on the shelves around them. “Maybe it’s time…” He cut himself off, realizing he didn’t want to hear Dumbledore’s response to what he’d been about to say.

Maybe it’s time to let the Gryffindor go.

A moment of silence fell, and Harry braced himself for whatever Dumbledore had to say in response to his rant. But when he spoke, it was nothing that Harry expected.

“It is not your fault, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “It is mine.”

Startled, Harry’s eyes landed on Dumbledore again.

“I should have been more open with you from the beginning,” he said. “I knew there was a possibility that Voldemort would try to trick you as he did yesterday evening. I feared he would use your connection against you the moment he became aware of it.” He sighed. “I knew he could try to influence you -”

“It’s not Voldemort’s fault I’m dark, either, if that’s what you’re implying,” Harry said. “I spent a lot of time this year worrying about that.”

“But I have sensed him in you,” Dumbledore said. “I’m sure you have, too.”

“That’s why you had me take Occlumency,” Harry said, still feeling antagonistic. “A fat lot of good that did.”

“I had hoped Occlumency would… keep you separate from him,” Dumbledore said. He heaved out a great sigh, shaking his head. “I sensed him behind your eyes.”

Harry reluctantly nodded. “I have been… feeling his emotions sometimes,” he admitted.

“Then how can you be certain that your… exploration of the dark arts isn’t another influence from him?” Dumbledore asked.

“Because of my scar,” Harry said.

“How do you mean?”

Harry unconsciously lifted his hand and ran a finger down the familiar scar on his forehead. “It would hurt whenever he was… in my head,” he said. “And it never hurt when I was ‘exploring’ the dark, as you put it.” He narrowed his eyes. “And it was the dark that helped me push him out.” Harry didn’t mention that it was a form of dark protection that his friends had given him; although he was certain Dumbledore had his suspicions, he wasn’t going to out any of his friends to the headmaster.

“Despite what you say, I must wonder if you truly know all of the repercussions of what you have done,” Dumbledore continued. “Becoming a dark wizard… it twists your magic into something it wasn’t before.”

Harry shook his head. “It’s just… shifted,” he said. “I felt it shift, but nothing actually… changed.”

“Are you sure about that, Harry?” Dumbledore said, and his gaze suddenly became hard and assessing. “I wonder… when was the last time you cast the Patronus charm?”

Harry blinked at the question. “Uh… last summer,” he replied. “At the Dementors.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Why don’t you try it now?”

A sinking feeling formed in Harry’s gut. He stared at Dumbledore for a moment before drawing his wand. He peered at it before taking a breath and raising it before him. He summoned the memory of dancing the night away on the Winter Solstice, and incanted, “Expecto Patronum!

It felt wrong.

Harry’s stomach twisted unpleasantly, and it felt like something foreign and vile was writhing its way through his body; it was if a nest of worms with teeth was tearing through him. They seemed to wriggle through him, up to his shoulder and then down his arm, and then, with an unpleasant, disgusting lurch, a beautiful, silver stag erupted out of his wand.

He stared at the stag in horror. It looked the same as it always had, but the sensation of making it appear was unlike anything he’d ever felt. He quickly dissipated the stag but continued staring at the empty space on the floor where it had stood, feeling a bit sick to his stomach.

“I must admit that I’m impressed, Harry,” he heard Dumbledore say. “You are only the second dark wizard I know of that is capable of producing a fully corporeal Patronus.”

Bully for me, Harry thought absently, refusing to meet Dumbledore’s eyes.

“You do understand now, I take it?” Dumbledore asked. “You know why it made you feel the way it did?”

“It’s a light spell,” Harry said quietly.

“One of the last known truly light spells,” Dumbledore confirmed. “And trying to force the light through something that is… shaped for the dark…” He sighed. “It will now always feel like that for you, Harry.”

His friends had to have known. Daphne certainly knew, at least - her insistence on ‘keeping her options open’ made so much more sense. Why hadn’t they said anything?

Or should he have known? If he’d put any thought into it at all, he could have figured out that the Patronus charm was light magic, and declaring dark certainly wouldn’t do him any favors when it came to the mostly lost light arts.

But if his affinity had always been dark, why had he been able to cast the Patronus at all without any ill-feelings? Why was it only different now?

Harry took only a few moments to decide that ultimately, it didn’t matter. He knew he would have to talk to his housemates about it, but it was a discussion he needed to have with his friends, not Dumbledore.

“Even knowing this,” Harry said slowly, finally facing Dumbledore once more, “my decision would have been the same.”

Dumbledore let out a heavy sigh, unlike any Harry had ever heard come from the usually jovial headmaster. “Even knowing that what you just experienced is the reason why so many dark wizards wind up hurting others?” he asked quietly.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “That’s really -”

“Harry, I know far more about dark wizards and the dark arts than you might have realized,” Dumbledore said. “Since the dark arts comes to a dark wizard with much more ease than other types of magic, they often wind up turning to spells that cause grievous harm to those around them.”

“But that’s not every dark wizard,” Harry protested. “You know it’s not.”

“I do know that,” Dumbledore admitted with a nod. “But I have seen it happen -”

“And you think that’ll happen to me,” Harry said sardonically.

“I fear it.”

“I’m not Voldemort,” Harry sneered.

Dumbledore again fixed a scrutinous look on Harry. “I admit that I still can’t help but suspect that your new fascination with the dark arts did come from Voldemort -”

“It didn’t,” Harry snapped. “I got it from my mother.”

Dumbledore’s expression melted into shock. “Your… mother?” he asked quietly.

Harry nodded. “She… she used something called Primum Cor to save my life,” he said. “It’s blood magic.”

“Your mother… wasn’t a dark witch, Harry,” Dumbledore said quietly.

“She wasn’t,” Harry said. “But she had an affinity for the dark, just like I do.” He paused. “You said you know about dark wizards and witches, right? You know about affinities?”

Dumbledore gave him a short nod. “I do,” he confirmed. “It was explained to me that there are light affinities and dark affinities, but since I had never heard of anyone confirming a light affinity… I must admit that I suspected it was… an excuse that dark wizards used to explain why they turned to the dark arts in the first place.”

“Trust me when I say it’s not an excuse,” Harry snapped, even as he wondered about if what Dumbledore said about light affinities was really true. “The dark… it protects me - like how it protected me from Voldemort. The dark arts come naturally to me because the dark is where I’m supposed to be.” He shook his head. “It… speaks to me, in a way. It feels like home. And considering I’ve never had a real home…” He paused, swallowing hard. “My mother - she must have felt the same thing, except she didn’t have anyone telling her that it was okay to feel like that. She pretty much only had people telling her that it was evil - that she was evil for being drawn to them…” He sighed. “And you were probably one of them. You hate the dark arts.”

“If I… ever made your mother feel evil… I am truly sorry for that, Harry,” Dumbledore said softly. “And I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel like that -”

“I already know I’m not evil,” Harry spat.

“You’re not, Harry,” Dumbledore agreed. “You are one of the kindest souls that I have ever had the pleasure to know.” He paused, shaking his head. “I just worry about what the dark arts will do to you -”

“It won’t do anything,” Harry said. “I don’t think you’d understand.”

Dumbledore was quiet, and he studied Harry with a calculating look. “Perhaps you can educate me, then,” he finally said.

Harry looked at him in surprise. Did that mean that Dumbledore was actually willing to listen?

Dumbledore continued. “I’ll admit that… my experience with dark wizards is limited to a select few individuals,” he said. “One of those individuals was… perhaps the greatest friend I ever had.” He shook his head. “What he did… what he became…”

Harry wondered who the friend had been, but judging from the haunted expression on Dumbledore’s face, he decided it would be in bad taste to ask. Irritated as he was with Dumbledore, it was certainly tempting to try and open up old wounds, but if Dumbledore was truly willing to open his mind to what the dark actually meant to him, he didn’t want to ruin that chance.

“I’m not… becoming anything,” Harry said quietly. “And I know we might be similar in a lot of ways, but I’m not Tom Riddle.”

Dumbledore looked startled at Harry’s declaration but didn’t say anything.

Harry continued. “You told me that it was our choices that make us different, right?”

Letting out another great sigh, Dumbledore peered at Harry over the rim of his glasses. “And yet you've been making all the same choices that Tom Riddle made. That, Harry, is exactly why I’m afraid for you,” he said. “In your first year, you chose differently than Tom. You chose Gryffindor.”

“I didn’t exactly choose Slytherin, either,” Harry said. “I just told the hat to put me where I belonged. And I do belong in Slytherin, just like the dark is where I belong.” He paused, shaking his head. “And I’m still not making all the same choices that Voldemort has. I still choose to love and care for my friends,” he said, and the faces of his friends, new and old, Slytherin and Gryffindor, swam before him. “Even the ones that hate me,” he added, a pang running through him at the thought of Ron.

Dumbledore nodded. “That is true,” he said. “And that brings me to what I truly need to speak to you about.”

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise.

“As I mentioned earlier, it is my fault you were led to the Department of Mysteries tonight, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “I knew it was likely that Voldemort would try to trick you into going there. Have you figured out why?”

Harry’s mind raced over all of the events that had happened that night. The dark had started screaming at him and the Death Eaters had appeared right after he laid his hands on the glass orb. “There’s… a prophecy,” he said slowly. He hadn’t known it when he picked it up, but that little glass ball apparently contained some kind of prophecy concerning himself and Voldemort.

Dumbledore was nodding. “The orbs contained in the Hall of Prophecy can only be touched by those who are subjects of their individual prophecy,” he said, “meaning the only people who could touch the orb that the Death Eaters desired were -”

“Me and Voldemort,” Harry finished, remembering the names he'd seen on the old, yellowing label. “But then why didn’t Voldemort just get it himself? He wound up in the Ministry as it is…”

"I suspect it's because Voldemort did not yet want to reveal his return," Dumbledore said.

"I…" Harry trailed off, suddenly realizing something. “I don’t know what happened to the orb,” Harry said, alarmed. “Were all of the Death Eaters arrested? Could Voldemort have the prophecy now? He might know what it says but we never will!”

Dumbledore shook his head. “I do not know if Voldemort managed to get the orb into his hands,” he said. “But if he did, we still have a slight advantage.”

“And what’s that?”

“The orbs are merely records of prophecies,” Dumbledore said. “They are magically created when a seer makes a prophecy. When that particular prophecy was made, I was fortunate enough to witness it.”

Harry stared at Dumbledore in disbelief. “I…” He paused, his eyes narrowing. “The date on the prophecy… was from before I was born.”

Dumbledore nodded sadly. “It was.”

“You’ve… you’ve known there was a prophecy about me... for years?” he asked incredulously.

“I regret that I must say… I did.” He rose from his desk, looking tired and stepped over to a cabinet. He pulled out his pensieve - the one that Harry had fallen into the year prior. “I was interviewing Sybil Trelawney for a possible teaching job at Hogwarts. I was quite inclined to no longer offer Divination, but I decided that I should at least see her considering she was the great-granddaughter of the great Cassandra Trelawney.” He shook his head. “It was quite disappointing. I was just turning to leave…”

He drew his wand and pointed it at his temple, and used it to draw tiny, silvery strands from his mind, and then deposited them in the pensieve. With a glance to Harry that he couldn’t hope to read, he let out a sigh before prodding the shimmering substance in the pensieve with his wand.

A ghostly figure rose out of it, and Harry recognized the familiar face of Professor Trelawney, draped with shawls and eyes magnified by her glasses. But when she spoke, it wasn’t the airy, spacey voice that she tended to use in class; it was the same voice Harry had heard at the end of his third year. It was harsh and hoarse and barely sounded human.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the dark lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

Professor Trelawney sank back into the pensieve, and the silence that fell over the office felt almost oppressive.

“What does that mean?” Harry whispered, unable to tear his eyes away from the pensieve.

“It means,” Dumbledore said, “that the person who had a chance of defeating Lord Voldemort would be born at the end of July, nearly sixteen years ago, to parents who had already defied Voldemort three times.”

Harry wrenched his gaze towards Dumbledore, feeling almost light-headed. “And that’s… me?” he asked.

Dumbledore peered at Harry. “It may not have meant you at all,” he said. “When the prophecy was made, we determined that it could have been two different boys - both due to be born at the end of July to parents who had escaped from Voldemort on three different occasions. One, of course, was you. The other was Neville Longbottom.”

“Neville?” Harry asked. “But… then why was it my name on the prophecy? How do you know it’s me at all?”

“Because of the content of the rest of the prophecy,” Dumbledore said. “It became clear after Voldemort attacked you and your parents that it was about you and not Neville.”

“Why is that?” Harry asked. “Why are you so sure it’s me?”

“Because the prophecy states that Voldemort himself would ‘mark him as his equal,” Dumbledore explained. “He chose you, Harry. In doing so, he set the prophecy in motion. Had he chosen Neville…”

“Then it would be Neville,” Harry mused. His fingers again flicked up to the scar on his forehead. He supposed Voldemort had indeed marked him.

But something nagged at him. “Why did he choose either of us at all?”

“The first part of the prophecy was overheard,” Dumbledore explained. “There was an eavesdropper -”

“He attacked my parents because of this?” Harry spat out. “This is why they’re dead?”

“I’m afraid so, Harry.”

“So… I’m supposed to be Voldemort’s equal?” Harry asked in disbelief. “How? He’s been studying magic and the dark arts for years, and I could barely even keep up with Bellatrix Lestrange. She would have killed me if Draco hadn’t…” He paused, shaking his head furiously. “I don’t have that kind of power! And I definitely don’t have any kind of power that Voldemort doesn’t know about!”

“But I believe you do, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “You mentioned it earlier.”

“I… what?” Harry stared at Dumbledore. What kind of power could Harry possibly have that Voldemort did not?

“It is a force that is both wonderful and terrible, and it is one that you possess in great quantities while Voldemort has none,” Dumbledore said. “It is the force that took you to save Sirius tonight, and it is the force that leads you to worry more about the well-being of your friends than your own.” He paused, and a strange smile appeared on Dumbledore’s face. “I believe it is why you threw yourself to the mercy of wizarding justice when you saw your friend Draco Malfoy in danger of being arrested.”

Harry processed Dumbledore’s words, his eyes narrowing. “Because I… care about people?”

Dumbledore nodded. “Yes,” he replied. “You have a profound amount of heart, Harry, and that is something that Voldemort has never known.”

Harry stared at Dumbledore in disbelief. “And the other part of that prophecy - ‘neither can live... while the other survives,’” Harry said. “That means… that means one of us will have to kill the other?”

“Yes.”

“And you… you think I’m going to somehow do that with… what - the power of love?” Harry asked incredulously. He shook his head. “You’re…”

Harry had felt on edge and angry since Dumbledore had first appeared, and he realized that he was now absolutely furious. “You’ve known about this stupid prophecy since before I was born. Why didn’t you tell me before?”

Dumbledore let out a great sigh and shook his head. “I’m afraid… I didn’t want to burden you with this knowledge, Harry. My great folly…”

“Yeah, that is pretty great,” Harry spat. He glared at Dumbledore, fury racing through him, and sneered, “You’re a coward.”

Dumbledore didn’t protest Harry’s words. Instead, he said, “I am truly sorry, Harry.”

“You should be.”

It was then that a bolt of clarity ran through Harry.

He’d spent much of the year being irritated with Dumbledore, but every single time he’d felt pure, unadulterated anger towards the headmaster, that anger had generally been Voldemort’s.

Now, however, the anger was all his own.

“I do not deserve your forgiveness, Harry,” Dumbledore said quietly. “The truth is that I had hoped to keep this burden from you for a little longer, but I waited for far too long.”

Harry had no idea what to say to that.

“I had hoped that you would be able to remain a child for a little while longer,” Dumbledore continued. “But I can see that you are already no longer a child. The person who stands before me is a young man - one who stands by his convictions with all his heart.”

Harry let out a huff and turned away from the headmaster, shaking his head.

“Have I damaged our friendship beyond repair, Harry?”

Despite his anger and irritation, there was the tiniest sliver of guilt that began lacing through his heart. Dumbledore had kept information from him, just as Harry had kept information from Hermione, and Harry was also left feeling like he’d ruined his friendship with her.

But while Dumbledore’s secrets had been kept out of a desire to protect Harry, Harry’s secrets had been kept out of a desire to protect himself. It was almost entirely self-serving - which was exactly what Hermione had said about Slytherins.

“Harry?”

“I don’t know, sir,” Harry replied. “I’ll have to think about it.” Regardless of his guilt, Harry knew he was still too angry to make a decision on whether or not he could forgive Dumbledore. “If there’s nothing else…” Without bothering to wait for a response, Harry crossed the office to the door.

He swung it open only to reveal Snape, hand raised as if he was about to knock.

“Potter,” Snape sneered. “I’ll deal with you in a moment.” He looked over Harry’s head at Dumbledore. Headmaster, you’re -”

“Where were you?” Harry immediately demanded, suddenly remembering how he couldn’t find Snape on the map. Snape’s eyes snapped back towards him. “I was told to go to you if I -”

“Which you did not,” Snape replied. “Fortunately for you, Miss Parkinson did come to me after you left the school.” He again looked to Dumbledore. “Headmaster, there are a few Aurors here to arrest Professor Umbridge. You should make your way to the entrance hall in case you’re needed.” He shot Harry another piercing, nasty look. “They apologized for the delay, seeing as they were held up due to the Ministry being invaded by Death Eaters and... students.”

“We didn’t invade anything!” Harry exclaimed.

“You left the school, despite being explicitly instructed to come to me -”

“Well, you weren’t here!” Harry snapped.

“Are you accusing me of lying? I was in my quarters, which you didn’t bother to check,” Snape hissed. “And I thought I was clear, Potter - you were to cease your Gryffindor antics now that you are a Slytherin.”

“You actually told me not to pull any of my fellow Slytherins into my Gryffindor antics -”

“Which is exactly what you did, you idiot child!” Snape snapped.

“Gentlemen!” Dumbledore cut in. “Surely the two of you can…” He trailed off, looked from Snape to Harry and back again.

“What?” Harry asked, his tone surly.

“It is just now occurring to me…” Dumbledore fixed an assessing gaze on Snape. “Since you were teaching young Harry Occlumency, Severus, I take it you were aware of Harry’s new… magical inclinations?”

Snape’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly before he directed a glare even more fierce than before at Harry.

“I see,” Dumbledore continued. “I suppose I should go check on the situation with Professor Umbridge.” Harry stepped to the side to let him through, and the headmaster disappeared down the stairs.

“Did… did I just get you in trouble?” Harry asked quietly.

Snape rolled his eyes and then sneered at Harry. “Unlike you, Potter, I am not a student,” he said. “And as for what you will be facing for your actions, I think detention for the next -”

“Severus!” Dumbledore called back up the stairs. “I think that’s quite unnecessary. And I would like Harry to join me in the entrance hall. I believe he deserves to witness the fruits of his labors.”

***

Harry and Dumbledore reached the entrance hall just in time to see Pansy and Millicent, accompanied by Professor McGonagall, arrive with a tied up, floating Umbridge in tow. Kingsley and Tonks waited with one other Auror that Harry only recognized as having been at the Ministry. The Auror’s eyes widened when he spotted Harry, but he said nothing.

A few other students that had been on their way to breakfast stopped in their tracks, staring at the scene with wide eyes.

Unlike when Harry had last seen Umbridge, she was awake and practically frothing at the mouth. “Untie me immediately!” she demanded. “You know who I am, do you not? I am the Senior Undersecretary to -”

“You are Dolores Umbridge,” Kingsley announced. “And we have a warrant for your arrest.”

Umbridge’s eyes bulged disgustingly. “For what?” she demanded.

Standing beside Kingsley with her arms crossed, Tonks snapped her gum. “For gross crimes against students,” she said. “Veritaserum, memory modification, blood magic…” She paused. “Oh, and the use an Unforgiveable. Can’t forget that one.”

Really?” Terry Boot exclaimed. “You mean he actually…” He paused, glancing around the hall, and Harry followed his gaze until it landed on Blaise and Draco in the corner. Hermione, Ron, and Neville stood a few feet away. Harry was relieved to note that they all looked a bit haggard and worn down, but they were alive and all right.

“Zabini!” Terry shouted. “You sly Slytherin, you actually did it!”

Blaise’s eyes widened. “Shut up, Boot,” Blaise hissed.

“What?” Terry said. “You managed to get the Aurors -”

Blaise made a slashing motion across his throat with his hand, and Terry paused, looking a bit confused. Harry reached out to tap Terry on the arm. “Don’t,” Harry whispered.

“Wait,” Tonks said. “Are you saying that this Zabini is our mysterious ‘Asclepius?’”

Blaise shot Terry a fierce glare. “I thought Ravenclaws were supposed to be more subtle than that.”

McGonagall flicked her wand, and the struggling Umbridge floated over to Kingsley and Tonks. With another particularly harsh flick, Umbridge was then dumped unceremoniously onto the ground in front of them.

“Nice binding, Professor McGonagall,” Kingsley commented.

“Thank you,” Pansy replied.

“This is Miss Parkinson’s work,” McGonagall replied. “And I agree.”

“What?” a Hufflepuff exclaimed from the other side of the hall.

“Wait, was all of the Inquisitorial Squad in on Zabini’s plan?” Lee Jordan said. Blaise smacked his hand into his forehead, muttering.

Harry immediately crossed the hall to his group of friends, just in time to overhear Hermione speaking to Blaise in a hushed voice.

“If you’re afraid of what your mother might say, you can always point at the quality of her teaching,” she whispered. “She doesn’t have to know about Umbridge’s Muggleborn legislation.”

Blaise glanced at her, a pensive look on his face.

“Didn’t you tell all of your little helpers not to say anything?” Draco asked.

“Of course I did,” Blaise replied.

“‘Little helpers?’” Hermione asked sardonically, scowling.

“Potter!” Umbridge suddenly screeched. “This is your fault, isn’t it? As soon as the Minister hears of this -” She was cut off as Kingsley promptly dragged her to her feet, releasing Pansy’s ropes as Tonks held her at wandpoint.

“Potter?” Harry realized he couldn’t even tell who had spoken. More and more students were arriving for breakfast and the crowd was growing by the second.

“I’m certain the Minister has other things to worry about,” Harry called from across the hall, ”considering he just saw Voldemort in the Ministry for Magic.”

A gasp ran through the crowd. Whether it was due to Harry once again using Voldemort’s name or the news that Voldemort had been spotted by the Minister himself, Harry didn’t know.

“Is that why the Slytherins are suddenly turning on Umbridge?” a blonde Hufflepuff asked snidely.

“Typical,” a Ravenclaw responded. “As soon as it looks like their side is losing, they switch sides.”

“Hey!” Angelina snapped. “Harry was the one who originally warned me about not drinking anything from Umbridge, and he did that weeks ago.”

“He did?”

“He’s Potter, Angelina,” Katie Bell replied. “He’s not really a Slytherin -”

Yes, I am,” Harry replied.

“Besides, I’m pretty sure that Zabini is the one responsible for getting the Aurors here,” Lee said.

“You’ll never work for the Ministry now, Zabini!” Umbridge cried as Kingsley rebound her hands behind her back. “In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a job anywhere -”

Silencio!” Draco jabbed his wand at her, and her voice instantly disappeared. Her mouth kept moving, and her face twisted into fury when she realized no sound came out.

Tonks let out a laugh. “That’s so much better,” she said, grinning.

“Figures that they waited until the end of the school year,” Harry heard someone say in a loud voice. “Now that all the damage has been done by the Inquisitorial Squad -”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Pansy exclaimed, looking quite cross. “Typical sheep, assuming the worst about us…”

“Slytherin’s up by hundreds of points while the rest of us are in the basement!” The same blonde Hufflepuff that had spoken up before was sneering at Pansy.

“You’re seriously worried about house points?” Harry asked blandly.

“Of course you would say that since Slytherin is -”

“Oh, be quiet, you simpering little mouse!” Pansy shot out. “How about if I restore all of the points we took? Would that make you happy?”

The Hufflepuff gaped at her, and she wasn’t the only one. A few others were staring at her, and even Millicent’s eyes were wide.

“Consider it my last act as a member of the Inquisitorial Squad,” Pansy sneered before shooting a glance at McGonagall. “That is, if it hasn’t been officially disbanded yet?”

McGonagall peered at her with a hint of a smile on her face. “Not quite yet, Miss Parkinson,” she said. “I think if you’ll look at the hourglasses in the Great Hall you’ll find them all quite in order.”

Scowling, Pansy wandered over towards Harry and the others. Harry grinned at her but her frown only grew deeper. “I hope you know that it physically pained me to do that,” she said.

“I’m sure it did,” Harry replied in a placating tone. “But I’m proud of you, Pans.”

Pansy rolled her eyes, but then offered Harry a smirk. “It has to stop somewhere, right?” she said. “I’m just… riding on Blaise’s tailwind.”

Harry choked back a laugh at her words. He knew very well that Pansy’s actions weren’t out of the goodness of her heart. She wanted the other houses to stop targeting Slytherin and she aimed to improve Slytherin’s reputation, and she knew a prime opportunity when she saw it.

“I can’t believe we’re worrying about house points,” a Ravenclaw girl said. “Didn’t Potter say that You-Know-Who was at the Ministry? What happened?

“I’m sure it will be covered in The Daily Prophet soon, Miss Li,” Dumbledore said, finally speaking up. “But yes. Voldemort was spotted in the Ministry for Magic. He was thankfully driven out before any real damage could be done.”

Real damage, my ass, Harry thought, shooting Dumbledore a glare.

“Hey, Potter!” Ernie Macmillan shouted from across the hall. “Just checking - this means you haven’t joined You-Know-Who, right?”

Dumbledore looked startled at that, and out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Kingsley swing his head towards him with wide eyes.

“Of course not, Macmillian.” Cassius Warrington leaned up against the far wall of the hall, looking rather bored. Freya stood beside him with a smirk on her face. “Potter wouldn’t ever join the Dark Lord.” He met Harry’s eyes from across the hall, and Harry merely stared back at him.

“Then why -”

“He couldn’t say he was back, could he?” Freya said. “So he had to let the simpletons know he was back some other way.”

“What?”

“How do we know he’s actually back, though?” a Ravenclaw asked. “The Ministry denied it last time Potter said -”

“Believe me when I say he’s back,” Kingsley said. “The Minister himself saw him, which is why we need to be leaving sooner rather than later. Tonks, Williamson?” He and Williamson each grabbed one of Umbridge’s arms and towed her towards the staircase, but Tonks hung back for a moment, quickly jogging towards Harry.

“Harry - I heard what happened. What you did,” she whispered. She glanced at Draco, narrowing her eyes. “And what you did, too. Thanks for that, cousin.

“Sorry,” Draco said, not sounding like he was sorry at all.

“I know the shit’s gonna hit the fan soon about all that, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m with you, okay?” Tonks continued. “My mum… she’s like you. Or she was, anyway.” She grinned. “Although I’ve got this nagging feeling that my mum already knows about you...”

Harry smiled back at her. “She might,” he said craftily.

Tonks laughed. “Well, I’m sure our house is open if you need it, okay?”

Harry nodded. “Thanks.”

She started to turn back towards the staircase but paused, studying Blaise for a moment before another broad grin spread across her face. “Cheers... Ascelpius.” She offered him a salute before turning to sprint after Kingsley and Williamson, looking completely ungraceful and nearly tripping down the stairs.

Harry ignored the stares that were now completely focused on their corner of the entrance hall, turning his back on them and facing his friends.

“I’m starving,” Pansy said. “And completely exhausted. I’ve been up all night worrying about you three, you know.”

“I… I don’t think I can eat right now,” Harry said, shaking his head.

“Good, because here comes Theo,” Draco said, pointing towards the staircase. Theo was just trudging up, looking tired but a bit bewildered. He must have passed the Aurors on the stairs. “You can go get some sleep, Harry. We’ll talk to Theo.”

Harry took in a deep breath and let it out. “Thanks.”

Draco and the others went to the doors of the Great Hall to wait for Theo, leaving Harry with Ron, Neville, and Hermione.

The three Gryffindors stared at him, and Harry dropped his eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

He wasn’t entirely sure what he was apologizing for. For dragging them to the Ministry? For not being what they expected? For letting them down?

They didn’t say anything, and Harry glanced up to see Ron opening and shutting his mouth, apparently at a loss for words. Neville looked just as ill as he had at the Ministry.

“I’m just… gonna...” Neville trailed off, sounding nervous, and he quickly departed for the Great Hall.

Ron glanced after him with wide eyes before looking back to Harry. “Yeah, I…” He immediately took off after Neville. Harry watched their retreating backs, a pit forming in his stomach.

Harry and Hermione were left staring at one another. Harry swallowed nervously.

“Can we have that talk now?” Hermione said quietly. “Now that we’ve… made it out alive?”

***

They quickly crossed the castle in silence, making their way to the abandoned classroom near the library. As soon as they entered Hermione cast an Imperturbable charm on the door as Harry pulled out two rickety chairs, setting them down across from one another.

They sat, and the two of them simply stared at each for a long moment before Hermione pursed her lips. Harry saw what was coming and braced himself for the inevitable explosion.

“How could you, Harry?” Hermione asked. “You’re smarter than that - I know you are! To start messing around with the dark arts... you know how dangerous -”

“Hermione,” Harry said. “You don’t -”

“How did this even start?” Hermione continued, ignoring Harry’s feeble interruption. “Did the Slytherins convince you -”

“Don’t blame them for this!” Harry exclaimed. “I was already learning the dark arts before I got re-sorted!”

Hermione’s eyes widened at that. “So you were messing with magic that you don’t understand all on your own? That’s even worse, Harry!”

“I understand it better than you!” Harry snapped, and he jumped to his feet, his eyes sparkling with anger.

“Then explain it, Harry!” Hermione shot back. “You’ve been so… different this year - you’re secretive and dishonest and -”

“I know I have!” Harry shouted. “Because I knew that you’d react exactly like you are now. You would have run off to Dumbledore or McGonagall, and -”

“If I had, it would have been because you are my friend, Harry!” Hermione said, her voice beginning to rise, as well. “And you’re messing with something incredibly dangerous!”

All magic is dangerous, Hermione!” Harry nearly roared, his face twisting in fury, and Hermione seemed to shrink back from him.

“That’s different, too,” Hermione said, swallowing. “You’ve… you’re quicker to anger, and when you get angry now, you’re a little...”

“A little what?” Harry sneered.

“Scary,” Hermione said. “At the Ministry, when you conjured that fire giant… you looked terrifying.” She shook her head. “You didn’t even look like yourself, Harry. I… I don’t like being frightened of you.”

Harry blinked at her words, and his anger seemed to deflate. “I… I’m sorry,” he said. He’d known it was true for weeks, but hearing her say it - his declaration had made his already volatile temper even worse.

“Is that what the dark arts does to people?” Hermione said.

Harry wanted to protest, but she wasn’t exactly wrong. “It’s… it’s more complicated than that, Hermione,” Harry said quietly.

“How could you… keep practicing them, knowing what it’s doing to you?” Hermione demanded.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, suddenly immensely exhausted. He supposed he hadn’t slept in over a day, but he realized that he simply didn’t have the energy to keep up with a full-blown argument with one of his oldest friends. “Hermione… will you just… listen to me?” he asked tiredly.

“I am listening -”

“No, I mean…” He paused, shaking his head. “I want to tell you everything. A lot has happened, and I’ve found out so much about myself that I didn’t know before, and I…” His voice suddenly cracked, and words began pouring from his mouth. “I’ve wanted to talk to you about it so badly, but I couldn’t. I have made friends in Slytherin - good friends - but I still miss talking to you. I had to find out all of these things about myself without you… and without Ron.” He took in a shaky breath, then another. “I’ve been worried for months that when you found out about me... that I’d lose you, too.”

Hermione looked startled at that, and for a long, tense moment, she didn’t respond. Finally, she let out a sigh, drew her wand, and pointed it at one of the half-broken chairs. “Pulvifors.” With her usual grace, she transfigured the chair into a large cushion, repeating it a few more times before passing a couple of the cushions to Harry. He looked at her in question and she merely rolled her eyes.

“If you’ve been keeping as much from me as I think you’re implying,” she said quietly, “it sounds like this is going to be a long conversation. These chairs aren’t exactly comfortable.”

A wave of gratefulness rushed through Harry, and he took the cushions from her. They sat down across from each other on the transfigured cushions, mirroring each other’s posture.

Hermione took a deep breath and slowly let it out. “Tell me about your year.”

And Harry did.

It wasn’t easy. He at first tried to explain it chronologically, but then kept realizing something he’d forgotten to mention earlier. He settled on trying to explain one thing at a time, pausing to clarify something whenever Hermione had a question.

He told her about the dark arts and dark affinities, and how he had a strong, almost irresistible affinity for the dark. With some difficulty, he admitted that his interest in the dark arts had likely led him to unintentionally making the decision to go to Slytherin instead of Gryffindor.

He told her about his fear that his own affinity had come from Voldemort, then smiling a little when he relayed that Draco was the one who pointed out that no matter where it had come from, it was still his affinity now. He went on to describe the feeling of hope he’d had when he first thought it might have come from his father, the disappointment when he found out it hadn’t, and then the wonder at the foundation-shattering revelation that it had actually been his mother who’d had the talent for the dark arts.

He explained how he decided to become a dark wizard and how the dark was the first place he’d ever felt like he belonged, even though the dark wasn’t exactly a place. He tried to explain how it felt to have the dark wrap around him and comfort him, and how he seemed to know exactly what it meant even when it didn’t utter a single actual word.

He tried to make her understand that although some things about him had changed - his already-foul temper was even worse than it had been before, the Patronus charm felt like something terrible was wriggling through his body, and that he now understood that he was capable of causing immense pain and misery - he was still, at the core, the same Harry he’d always been.

He still loved the same people, and he still wanted to help everyone he could. The difference was that now he wanted to help dark wizards in addition to the rest of the wizarding world. He explained about the unfair persecution of the dark and those that were aligned with the dark, and he was satisfied to hear Hermione let out a tiny gasp when he told her about the one-sided view that was available in the Hogwarts library.

He revealed that although many dark wizards went to Voldemort because they truly believed in his flawed ideology, several went to him because they felt he was the only one that would protect them from persecution. With reluctance, he explained that some of them felt that he could show them that Voldemort wasn’t the only choice.

“I don’t think my being dark would have stayed hidden for much longer,” he explained. “And it’s not how I would have wanted it to be revealed, but -”

“The Minister ordered everyone present to keep it quiet,” Hermione said.

Harry blinked at her, incredulous. “What?”

Hermione shook her head. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you earlier,” she said. “But we caught the tail-end of what he was telling the Aurors.”

“Why would he do that?” Harry asked.

“He already knows that the wizarding world is going to blame him for not confirming that Voldemort is back,” she said. “I think he believes that he would get blamed for you… turning dark, as well. It was also ‘on his watch,’ after all.” She sighed. “He knows it’ll leak sooner rather than later, but I think he believes that so much… bad news at once wouldn’t be good for public morale.”

“It’s not… bad news,” Harry said, even though he knew very well that it would be exactly how much of the wizarding world would take it.

“I…” Hermione shut her mouth and gave Harry a long, considering look.

“Do you think it is?” Harry asked.

Hermione shook her head. “I’m honestly not sure, Harry,” she said quietly.

Harry felt like a hand of dread had wrapped around his chest. He’d known that losing Hermione had definitely been a distinct possibility, but no matter how much he’d expected it, he still wasn’t ready for it to happen.

“I’m… oh, Harry, I’m not sure what to think,” she said, sounding frustrated. “I know you’re still you, but the dark arts… it feels… weird. That spell that Malfoy did - it felt incredibly strange!”

“I…” Harry blinked. “What?”

“It was like this… wave went through me!” Hermione continued.

Harry was faintly aware of his mouth falling open, and he stared at Hermione with wide eyes.

“You… felt it,” Harry repeated, feeling awestruck. “You felt dark magic even though it wasn’t even directed at you?” There had been so much going on at the time that he wasn’t even sure if he had felt the magic from Draco’s spell.

“Yes, and I can’t say it was...” Hermione paused. “It wasn’t… wrapping around me like a cocoon or comforting or anything like you were saying earlier.”

“But the fact you felt it at all…” Harry trailed off, again painfully aware that he didn’t know nearly enough about the dark arts. “Hermione… over the summer…” He fixed her with a contemplative look. “Did you try to get into that room in Grimmauld Place? The one I was telling you about earlier?”

“The one you were talking about earlier? The one no one could get into?” Hermione asked, sounding a bit confused. “Except for you, apparently. And of course I tried. Everyone tried.”

“Who found it first?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Just… humor me.”

“I did,” Hermione said.

Harry’s mind raced. “I have another question,” he said. “A few months ago, when you first asked me if I was messing around with the dark arts, what set your suspicions off?”

“I…” Hermione paused, her confusion seeming to grow. “Those injuries on your hands, I suppose, plus that spell you used on Applebee. There were also all the rumors flying around Gryffindor, but it was mostly… just a gut feeling that there was something I was missing,” she said. “I felt like I had to ask you about it.”

In the back of his mind, he knew he was hoping against hope, probably because he wanted to find a reason for Hermione to remain his friend. But Hermione had felt the magic of a dark spell - Harry hadn’t even felt that spell. The library hadn't opened for her as it had for him, but what was it that Sirius had said?

That library only opens itself to those that it trusts.

The library, like the dark, was almost sentient, and either Hermione didn’t have the right affinity to get in, or she did and the library didn’t trust her for one reason or another.

After all, Hermione had been taught to think that the dark arts were evil, but it wasn’t as if she was the first Muggleborn to think that.

“Hermione…” Harry said slowly. “If we go back to Grimmauld Place again this summer, I think you should try that door again.”

“Why?” Hermione asked curiously. Then she offered him a tentative smile. “Actually, I was going to say… about all this…”

“‘All this?’” Harry asked. “What, you mean me and the dark arts?”

“Yes,” Hermione said. “I… I’m still not sure about it at all, Harry, but…” She paused. “I’m willing to give it - and you - a chance.” She then raised her chin defiantly, and Harry recognized the stubbornness in her eyes. “That is to say… I am willing, provided you can lend me the books that prove what you’re saying - the ones you said were missing from the Hogwarts library.”

Harry stared at her for a moment, then burst out laughing. "It kind of figures that you'll believe a book more than you'll believe me," he said, feeling just a bit hysterical. He supposed it was probably understandable - he was bordering on complete exhaustion, after all.

Scowling, Hermione picked up one of her cushions and threw it at Harry, and his laughter just grew louder. After a moment, she began laughing with him.

It felt a bit like they were laughing just to laugh, but it also felt good. Harry was painfully aware of the fact that his friendship with Hermione could still be in danger, but she was still willing to look into it herself, and that meant the world to him. Getting a chance to laugh with her - really laugh - felt long overdue and wonderfully familiar.

They eventually managed to calm down, Hermione actually wiping her eyes as Harry held a stitch that had formed in his side.

“So what else, Harry?” she asked.

Harry blinked. “Huh?”

“What else do you want to tell me?”

Harry stared at her in confusion. “I think I covered everything…” he said. His eyebrows screwed together in concentration, trying to think if there was anything he’d missed.

Hermione seemed to search him for a moment before nodding. “Okay. You can tell me when you’re ready.”

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

“It’s okay, Harry -”

“That’s not fair, Hermione,” Harry protested. “If you’re sitting there thinking that I’m hiding anything else from you and…” He paused, scowling. “I feel like you’re going to… resent it if you think I’m not telling you something…”

Hermione shook her head adamantly. “That’s not what I meant! You don’t have to tell me, Harry -”

“But I’ve already told you everything!”

Hermione’s eyes widened. “You… really have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No, I don’t!” Harry snapped. “But apparently, you have some kind of idea of what I’m supposedly not telling you!”

Hermione opened her mouth, then shut it again.

Harry glared at her. “What else do you think I’m hiding?” he asked.

She stared at him for a moment. “I… I don’t know, Harry. It’s not my business if you don’t want it to be, and it feels strange trying to have this conversation with you if you’re truly that unaware of -”

“My use of the dark arts wasn’t exactly your business, either,” Harry said, a hint of viciousness in his voice. “Just spit it out, Hermione!”

She let out a strange, somewhat distressed ‘humph’ before pursing her lips. She then sat up and looked Harry straight in the eye. “Fine,” she said. “What’s going on with you and Malfoy?”

There was a beat of silence.

“What?” Harry asked, a slight crack in his voice. “What do you mean?”

Hermione swallowed before answering. “I mean… are you two… involved?

Harry’s eyes widened. “‘Involved?’” he asked incredulously. “You mean, like… like dating?” He felt completely and utterly dumbfounded. “You’re asking me if I’m dating Draco?”

“I…” Hermione paused. “I know I shouldn’t assume… and maybe Slytherins are all just very affectionate with each other and I’ve never noticed - you were holding hands with Parkinson back in the fall, too…” She seemed to be rambling a bit in a way that wasn’t very characteristic of Hermione. “But it also wasn’t just that you two were holding hands - you were also completely losing your cool every time Malfoy’s life was in danger even though all of us were in danger…”

“I…” Harry shook his head. “We’re not dating, Hermione.”

“But you… want to be?” she asked, sounding hesitant.

“Where are you getting this from?” Harry asked.

“I… well, you’ve never been a very affectionate person,” Hermione said. “But you two seemed to… I mean, every chance you got…” She was growing very red in the face. “You couldn’t seem to keep your hands off of each other.”

Harry shook his head. “Draco and I have… I mean... we became close this year, I suppose,” he said. “He’s talked me through a lot of the things that were going on, and he seems to see right through me, and…” He paused, running a hand through his hair. “He grabs my hands a lot and it kind of became a habit, and I guess I slept with him the one -”

What?!” Hermione exclaimed, her mouth falling open.

“Slept with as in just sleeping!” Harry corrected himself, wanting to smack himself on the forehead. “Like in the same bed, and it was almost an accident…” He felt his face growing hot in embarrassment. “Blaise didn’t make fun of us for it, and it’s not fair of you to make fun -”

“I’m not making fun!” Hermione said quickly. “Oh, this conversation is going just horribly…” She shook her head. “I was just thinking that what you said earlier about… finding things out about yourself and not being able to talk about it, so I thought you meant… oh, I’m a terrible friend! If you had something to tell me, I should have just let you tell me. Oh, I’m sorry, Harry. I shouldn’t have assumed...”

Harry fell silent. His flush didn’t fade, and the memory of the night that had ended up with him and Draco curled together in Draco’s bed came flooding back to him.

And Harry realized that Hermione wasn’t exactly wrong.

“I…” When he finally spoke again, his voice came out in a croak. He swallowed to clear his throat and tried again. “I think… I wanted to kiss him.” He stared down at his shoes, suddenly quite unwilling to meet Hermione’s eyes.

Hermione froze, staring at him with her lips parted slightly. “You… I… you…” She blinked owlishly at him before managing to find her words. “You think you wanted to kiss him?”

Harry just nodded, idly picking at his shoelaces.

“Harry,” Hermione said in a quiet, reasonable voice, “if you think you wanted to kiss him, you probably did want to.”

Harry swallowed again and began winding his shoelace around his finger. “Is… is that okay?”

“What? Of course it’s okay!” Hermione said, and Harry finally felt like he could meet her eyes again. “I mean… it’s Malfoy, but… seeing what he did at the Ministry, I suppose… I suppose he’s not the same person that he used to be, is he?”

Harry gave her a weak but wry smile. “He’s still the same person,” he said. “I think he’s just… grown up.”

Hermione returned his smile. “We all have.”

Harry let out a laugh. He kept winding his shoelace, and the tip of his finger was beginning to turn a strange shade of purple-red.

“Harry… I need to ask you something,” Hermione said. “You asked me if it was okay - which it is - but… you sound strange. Are you okay? Have you talked to anyone about this yet?”

Harry didn’t answer at first, then he finally released his finger from his shoelace and lifted his hands to run his fingers through his hair. “To be honest, this is the first time I’ve even really thought about it, Hermione,” he said. “There was just… so much going on this year.”

Hermione let out a laugh. “I suppose that makes sense. Moving to Slytherin, becoming a dark wizard, Umbridge… you were dealing with a lot all at once,” she said. “I suppose you didn’t have enough mental capacity to fit in one more thing that you had to figure out.”

Harry blinked, repeating her words in his head, and then he glared at her. “Hey!”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that, Harry,” Hermione said, rolling her eyes. “You’re not stupid. Not by a long shot.” She paused, and her lips quirked. “You’re just a boy.

Hey!” The cushion that Hermione had thrown at him earlier came flying back her way, and they again dissolved into laughter.

When they calmed down, Hermione hugged the cushion to her chest and fixed another searching look on Harry. “Are you… are you going to do anything about it?” she asked. “About you… wanting to kiss Malfoy?”

“I…” Harry paused, swallowing. “I don’t know.”

Hermione let out a humming sound, a contemplative look on her face. “For the record,” she said, “based on what I saw, I think he probably wants to kiss you, too.”

***

Harry was accosted as soon as he stepped foot in the Slytherin common room.

“You idiot!” Daphne exclaimed, repeatedly whapping him over the head with one of the cushions from the sofa. “It’s as if you made every single bad decision that you possibly could! What in the hell were you -”

“Daphne,” Harry said, catching the cushion and wrenching it from her hands. That turned out to be a bad choice as Daphne then just started using her fists instead, and Harry wound up trying to fend her off with the cushion as a shield.

“You could have died and Blaise and Draco could have died and you revealed your involvement with the dark arts and you’d think after a bloody year in Slytherin you would stop with your foolish Gryffindor -”

“Daphne!” Harry said, louder this time. “Let’s pretend I already feel really shitty about this, and you don’t need to yell at me anymore about it.”

“You - bloody - moron!” Daphne accentuated each of her words with another smack before abruptly stopping to throw her arms around Harry’s shoulders.

“If it’s any consolation,” Harry said, his voice muffled a bit by her hair, “I think that might’ve been the last of my foolish Gryffindor… whatever.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Daphne said, drawing back to glare at him.

He felt deflated and defeated, and he wanted nothing more than to go curl up in bed. But as he looked at her, he remembered something that had been nagging at him since his talk with Dumbledore. “Daphne…” he said, “why won’t you declare for the dark?”

A flicker of annoyance danced across Daphne’s already irritated face. “I’ve already told you,” she said. “I want to -”

“‘Keep your options open,’ yeah,” Harry said. “But what does that actually mean?”

Daphne’s displeasure melted into confusion. “I… there aren’t many light spells that are still known, but I’d still like to be able to cast them.”

“Like the Patronus charm?”

“That’s one, yes,” Daphne said. “Why are you asking this?”

“So you knew.”

“Knew what…” Daphne’s eyes widened. “You mean… you didn’t?” She suddenly let out a gasp and covered her mouth with both hands. “You could cast a fully corporeal Patronus, and now you’re not able to… oh, Harry -

“I can still cast it,” Harry said. “It just makes me feel like I’m going to vomit when I do.”

“You can?” Daphne said, her mouth falling open. “Harry, that’s incredible -”

“I don’t care,” Harry said. “What I want to know is why nobody bothered to tell me that was a risk.” He shook his head. “I mean… I’m honestly not sure it would have mattered, anyway, but why did I have to find out from Dumbledore?”

“I… I figured Draco or Blaise would have told you,” Daphne said. “I wasn’t the one trying to convince you to declare dark.”

Harry’s eyes widened in shock. Had they purposely hid it from him, thinking that it may have influenced his decision in declaring?

“But… if I’ve always had a dark affinity, why was I able to learn it at all?” he asked. “Wouldn’t it have made me feel sick then, like the dark arts does for Tracey?”

Daphne shook her head. “Light and dark are similar, but they’re not the same, Harry. The dark arts makes those with light affinities feel ill, but the light arts are supposed to just be far more difficult for those with dark affinities.”

Harry blinked in realization. “I… it took me months to learn the Patronus,” he said quietly. “I thought it was just because… Lupin said it was really advanced, and I was only thirteen…”

“It is really advanced,” Daphne said. “It’s difficult even for those with a light affinity.”

“Dumbledore thinks affinities are a myth,” Harry said. “He said he’d never heard of anyone with a light affinity, and he thought that dark wizards use their own affinity as an excuse.”

“What?” Daphne asked in disbelief. “There’s no way… Dumbledore, of all wizards, has to be a light wizard!”

“Can you think of a single known light wizard?” Harry asked. “If not Dumbledore…”

Daphne stared at Harry incredulously. “I… no,” she said. “Dumbledore is the only one that I… thought I knew of.” She paused, shaking her head. “Maybe we know as much about the light as the light - or the rest of the wizarding world, rather - knows about the dark.”

“I…” Harry let out a sigh. “Where are the others?” he asked. “Are they back from breakfast?”

“I think they’re up in your dorm,” Daphne replied.

Harry felt trepidation running through every bone in his body as he glanced towards the hallway to the dormitories. They were probably still talking to Theo, as well as Vince and Greg.

I’ve ruined their lives, Harry thought.

“Theo’s not angry with you,” Daphne said, as if she could read Harry’s mind. “You should go see him.” She gave him a gentle shove towards the dorm, and Harry shot her a grateful smile.

Despite the small crowd in the dorm - it contained all of the Slytherins in his year, minus Daphne - no one was talking when Harry entered. Most of them were huddled together either on or around the sofa, though Theo and Tracey were sitting together on Theo’s bed. Tracey’s hand was wound around Theo’s, while Theo seemed to be boring a hole in a floorboard with his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said quietly. He glanced at Greg and Vince and then over to Theo, who finally tore his eyes away from the floor to look at Harry.

“It’s... “ Theo sighed. “It’s my father’s own fault,” he said. “I just…”

“Greg and I will be okay,” Vince said. “But Theo…”

“I have no idea where I’m going to go,” Theo finished for him. “My mother is dead, and my father…”

“I already told you, Theo, you will stay with us,” Pansy said from the sofa.

Theo shook his head. “That’s if your family says it’s all right -”

“You are family -”

“ - and if the Ministry says it’s all right,” he continued. “Since my father will be in Azkaban, I’m technically going to be a ward of the bloody Ministry. You really think they’re going to just allow the son of a Death Eater do whatever he pleases?”

“The Ministry is going to be in shambles, considering what happened,” Blaise said. “I think they’re going to have bigger things to worry about than you.”

Theo heaved out a sigh, disentangled his hand from Tracey’s, and got to his feet. He looked even more gaunt than usual as he turned to look at Harry again. “That… that curse you used on my father,” he said.

“I’m sorry, Theo,” Harry said. “I was just…”

“Saving Draco, I know,” Theo replied. “I’m just… do you know if there are any… lasting effects?”

Harry swallowed hard. “To be honest,” he said, “I have no idea.”

Theo nodded, his expression only growing more pensive.

“Why did he take Draco, anyway?” Harry asked tiredly.

The others exchanged glances, and Draco stood up from the sofa before crossing the room to stand in front of Harry. “Because he saw me grab this.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small, familiar, glass orb.

Harry’s eyes widened. “Did you…”

“We haven’t listened to it,” Draco said, shaking his head. “It’s yours.” He held it out towards Harry.

Harry hesitated, then lifted it out of Draco’s hand. He stared at it, and suddenly, an icy hot fury began swirling inside of him.

The stupid prophecy was the cause of everything.

It was why Voldemort had drawn him to the Department of Mysteries. It was why Sirius had been arrested, along with his roommates’ fathers. It was why he’d revealed his use of the dark arts, and why his friendship with Neville and Ron were likely fractured beyond repair.

Harry’s grip on the orb grew tighter and tighter.

It was why his parents were dead.

His grip became almost impossibly tight until his knuckles were completely white, and the glass orb abruptly shattered in his hand.

Pansy leapt to her feet just as Draco cried out, “Harry!” Draco reached out and pulled Harry’s now bleeding hand towards him, already beginning to pick at the splinters of glass embedded in Harry’s palm.

“I… I guess I can understand not wanting to know what it says, Harry, but…” Blaise said, “are you sure you should have done that?”

“I already know what it says,” Harry bit out through clenched teeth.

Draco looked up from inspecting Harry’s hand, startled. “What?”

“Dumbledore,” Harry said. “He knew. He was there when the prophecy was made. He’s known about it since before I was born.”

“‘S.P.T. to A.P.W.B.D.’ That’s what the label read,” Blaise said. “Albus Percival Something Whatever Dumbledore.” He shook his head. “We should have known. Who is ‘S.P.T.?”

“Professor Trelawney,” Harry said. “I guess there’s a reason why Dumbledore keeps her employed here, after all.”

“Dumbledore knew… this whole time?” Draco asked, his face twisting up in anger. “And he never said a word to you?”

Harry nodded mutely.

“And… it is about you, then?” Pansy asked.

“You... and the Dark Lord,” Blaise added.

Draco peered at Harry for a long moment before setting his jaw and looking to the others. “Get out,” he demanded.

“What?” Pansy said, dumbfounded.

“Get out,” he repeated. “Or I suppose we can... “ He turned back to Harry. “We can go to the girls’ room -”

“No, we’ll go,” Blaise said, understanding blossoming on his face. “C’mon, guys.”

Draco’s eyes never moved from Harry’s as the others filed out of the room. Theo paused by Harry for a moment, apparently wanting to say something, but he finally just let out a sigh and followed the others, shutting the door behind him.

“Harry,” Draco said, “are you okay?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said truthfully.

“You don’t… you don’t have to tell me what it said,” Draco said. “I suppose I understand why Dumbledore wanted me out of the room for that, and -”

“I have to kill Voldemort,” Harry said. “Or he has to kill me.”

Draco’s throat bobbed as he swallowed. “I… I hate to say this, Harry,” he said, “but considering there was a prophecy orb about the two of you, that isn’t that much of a surprise.”

“That… that’s not everything,” Harry said. He then, and then he recited the prophecy as best he could. He was sure he hadn’t gotten it word for word, but he hit all of the important parts - that Voldemort had marked him as his equal, and that Harry was supposed to have a power that Voldemort didn’t know anything about.

Draco’s eyes grew wider and wider as Harry spoke. “The Dark Lord’s… equal?” he whispered.

“And a ‘power he knows not,’” Harry said, and then his lip curled in annoyance. “Dumbledore thinks it’s love.” He shook his head. “He’s completely mad.”

“And ‘neither can live while the other survives?’” Draco said. “I… I hate the sound of that.”

“How am I supposed to have a power Voldemort doesn’t?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know, Harry,” Draco said. “But you -”

“Maybe… maybe something in the… room?” Harry wondered. “Sirius told me that it’s supposed to have a ton of dark arts that no one else -”

“Harry, I don’t think -”

“I need to… to study,” Harry continued. “I need to find something that he hasn’t -”

“Harry!” Draco’s grip on Harry’s hand tightened, and Harry winced as he finally noticed the sting of the cuts covering his palm. Harry blinked once, then twice, before he suddenly realized that he’d been staring sightlessly, and Draco’s face suddenly swam back into his awareness.

“We’ve been up all night,” Draco said. “You’re exhausted. We don’t have to figure this out right this second.” He then gently pulled Harry over to his bed before sitting on the edge, pulling Harry with him. He drew his wand and began fixing Harry’s hand.

As Harry watched his broken skin knit up before his eyes, the gentle touch of Draco’s fingers against his own brought his conversation with Hermione swirling back into his mind.

Harry swallowed hard, lifting his eyes from their hands to Draco’s face. Draco’s eyebrows were furrowed in concentration, a stray lock of blond hair falling in his eyes, his lips working as he cast Episkey after Episkey, and his pale eyelashes were just so damn long.

Draco Malfoy. Draco, who had thrown caution to the wind and accompanied Harry to the Ministry simply because Harry had insisted on going, had done the unthinkable and chosen Harry over his own father. Now, instead of worrying about what he and his mother were going to do now that his father was headed for Azkaban, he was completely focused on Harry’s self-inflicted injuries.

Draco Fucking Malfoy.

Without even fully realizing what he was doing, Harry raised his free hand and brushed the stray lock of hair behind Draco’s ear.

Draco paused in his ministrations, his silver-grey eyes flickering up to meet Harry’s.

Throwing caution to the wind, Harry’s hand slid to the back of Draco’s neck and he gently coaxed him forward, while at the same time he leaned in.

Their lips met, and the first thing Harry thought was that Draco’s lips were incredibly soft. For someone who was as sarcastic and pointy as Draco was, it almost made no sense that his lips would be so soft.

And then Draco’s lips moved against his own.

Warmth spread through him, and he was only faintly aware of Draco reaching out and pulling on his collar, drawing him closer. The mattress underneath him shifted as they gravitated towards one another. Harry raised his other hand to cup Draco’s cheek, tangling his fingers in soft, silky hair.

Lips moved against one another, then tongues, and Harry shuddered pleasantly as they imitated each other’s movements.

It was his first kiss and Harry had nothing to compare it to, but he could definitely understand why some couples couldn’t seem to keep their lips off of each other.

Finally, and at the same time altogether too soon, Draco pulled back, sucking just a bit on Harry’s lower lip as he did so. “Not that I don’t appreciate it,” he whispered against Harry’s lips, “but what brought this on?”

“Hermione,” Harry responded, feeling like something in his brain had short-circuited.

“What?” Draco asked, drawing away so he could look Harry full-on in the face. He scowled. “You’re kissing me while thinking about -”

No!” Harry said. “She just… she pointed out that I… might have a thing for you. And that you might have a thing for me, too...”

Draco’s expression melted into amusement. “You…” He shook his head. “I invited you into my bed, had you sleep next to me, and just now you realize that I have a… ‘thing’ for you?”

“Uh,” Harry said sheepishly. “Well… as Hermione pointed out, I had an awful lot on my mind this year…”

“You’re a moron, Scarhead,” Draco said. His hand drifted upwards to grasp Harry’s still-injured one. “And did you just get blood in my hair?”

“Uh…” Harry’s eyes flicked upwards. “Yes.”

Draco smirked and leaned forward. “You owe me for that, you realize,” he said. “Though I suppose I owe Granger, as well…”

Harry’s laugh was cut off as their lips met again.

***

That afternoon, after they’d finally gotten some sleep, Pansy asked to take another look at Harry’s map. Harry peered over her shoulder as she studied it. After a few minutes, Pansy began pointing out room after room in the Slytherin dungeons that weren’t on the map. Harry watched her finger point to blank spaces on the map, dumbfounded. “We were all panicking so much at the time that I didn’t realize, but… there’s definitely a lot missing.”

“How, though?” Harry wondered.

“Who made it?” Pansy asked.

“My dad,” Harry replied, “and Sirius. And Remus Lupin and…”

“So a bunch of Gryffindors made it,” Pansy said. “It figures that they wouldn’t know every part of the dungeons. I bet there are parts of the Hufflepuff dungeons and Ravenclaw tower that aren’t on here, either.”

“So Snape was… in one of those rooms?” Harry asked. “Shouldn’t his name still have shown up? Made it look like he was… in a wall or something?”

“I don’t know how your map works,” Pansy said, sounding a bit cross. “But I found him here.” She pointed at a room in the dungeons that wasn’t labeled. “Those are his quarters,” she said. “There are two adjacent rooms behind it that aren’t on there.”

Harry frowned. His map wasn’t nearly as useful as he’d always thought it was, especially now that he was in Slytherin.

“We should fix it next year,” Pansy said. “At least the Slytherin part. I bet Blaise could figure it out…”

***

Fudge had acknowledged Voldemort’s return to The Daily Prophet by the evening, although the details were scarce. The only thing the evening edition really confirmed was that Voldemort was indeed alive. The more detailed story about what had happened at the Ministry didn’t come out for another few days, and Harry found himself completely bewildered that there wasn’t a single mention of his use of the dark arts.

Harry supposed that what Hermione had said was true - Fudge was trying to keep it quiet for the sake of ‘morale.’

“It’s going to leak eventually,” Draco said. “There were far too many people there. I’m surprised it hasn’t already…”

“Today’s big news is the Dark Lord,” Blaise said. “Harry will probably be the front page tomorrow.”

But he wasn’t. They checked the Prophet every day, making sure to read it through cover to cover, but there wasn’t a hint of Harry and the dark arts.

“Maybe I can beat them to the punch,” Harry muttered as they huddled together at the Slytherin table for the end-of-year feast. “If I’m the one who comes out and says it…”

“Splendid idea,” Blaise said. “Just stand right here on the Slytherin table and start screaming about how you’re a dark wizard. That’ll work brilliantly.”

Harry elbowed Blaise in the side harder than he should have, but the grunt that Blaise let out was incredibly satisfying.

Draco let out a laugh, and when Harry’s eyes found his a still-unfamiliar flutter developed in his gut, despite having felt it so often over the last few days.

Despite the change in their relationship, they hadn’t changed their regular seats, and Harry was quite alright with that. It allowed him and Draco to stare at one another quite brazenly, and Harry found that he was unable to keep himself from smiling every single time their eyes met.

Besides, it also allowed them to tangle their feet together underneath the table.

Pansy let out a sound of disgust. Harry immediately looked over at her, wondering if she was again going to tell them off for playing footsie, but she wasn’t looking at them. Instead, her eyes were fixed on the hourglasses that contained the house points.

“We’re in third place,” Pansy said. “Despite you all winning the Quidditch cup, and despite me only changing the points that we took, not anything that Umbridge or Snape awarded us…”

“Pansy, it’s just a stupid contest,” Harry said placatingly. “It’s not like we actually get anything for it.”

“Easy for you to say,” Pansy shot back at him. “How many times was it just handed to you while you were in Gryffindor?”

“At least Gryffindor isn’t winning it this time, either,” Blaise pointed out. “They’re in last place. They were in second after you restored the Inquisitorial points. I guess the professors got fed up with them all using the last of the Weasley products after Umbridge wasn’t here to use them on anymore.”

“I guess if it can’t be us, better Ravenclaw than Gryffindor or Hufflepuff,” Draco said.

As if on cue, Dumbledore got to his feet, and the Hall fell silent. “We again find ourselves at the end of the year,” he said, his voice easily carrying across the large room. “I daresay that this has been a year like none other, and I think most of you would agree.

“While the news of Voldemort’s return has likely put a damper on your spirits, we still have the matter of the House Cup. Considering the events of the last week or so, I do, as usual, have some last-minute points to award.”

“Here we go again,” Pansy whispered.

“The totals are as follows: in fourth place, Gryffindor, with three hundred and twenty-eight points; In third, Slytherin, with three hundred and forty-seven points; Hufflepuff in second, with three hundred and fifty-two points; and finally, Ravenclaw is in first, with three hundred and fifty-eight points.”

“Dumbledore’s about to pull the rug out from Ravenclaw, isn’t he?” Blaise whispered.

“Firstly, to Marietta Edgecombe of Ravenclaw, for reliving and giving a memory of something painful for the aide of the school, I award you ten points.”

“Huh,” Draco said. “That’s unexpected.”

“Next, for Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein of Ravenclaw, I award ten points each for unraveling an Obliviated memory with all the intellect that your house represents,” Dumbledore continued.

“Why is he bothering with this when Ravenclaw is already winning?” Blaise asked. “Just drive the knife in even deeper, why don’t you?”

“For Hermione Granger of Gryffindor, for assisting the Ravenclaws in uncovering the Obliviate laced in that memory, I award you ten points.”

“And there it is,” Pansy hissed. “The start of the waterfall of points he’s going to shower on Gryffindor...”

“For Lee Jordan of Gryffindor, for realizing when it was time for house rivalries to come to a pause for the good of the school, I award you ten points.”

Pansy continued sniping, but Harry found himself hiding a smile. He knew Dumbledore well enough to tell exactly where all these points were pointing.

“For Angelina Johnson of Gryffindor, I award ten points for not only heeding a warning, but for knowing when to be discreet about where that warning came from.”

“Gryffindor is now in second place,” Blaise muttered. “Let me guess, a thousand points to Longbottom for being a bumbling, plant-obsessed nerd?” Harry threw another elbow into Blaise’s gut.

“For Harry Potter of Slytherin, for growing into his new house with all of the cunning that Salazar Slytherin himself took pride in, and for finding a way to warn the school of imminent danger as well as finding a way to remove that danger, I award you ten points.”

“Ten points?” Pansy said, rolling her eyes. “He was much more generous with you when you were in -”

“For Blaise Zabini of Slytherin, for orchestrating the arrest of a person who was a threat to each and every student in this school, and for reaching out to students from nearly every other house in order to put that threat to rest, I award you… thirty points.”

Pansy gasped and Blaise gaped. “That… that puts us just one point behind Ravenclaw…” Blaise said.

“Next time, Mr. Zabini, work a Hufflepuff into your mix,” Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling.

“Is he… is he serious?” Pansy hissed. “He’s going to get us so close and then not actually do it because Blaise didn’t -”

“Lastly, to Pansy Parkinson of Slytherin, for choosing to do the right thing even when it hinders your own ambitions, I award you ten points.”

Harry let out a broad grin. The other fifth years sat in stunned silence for a moment, while Harry heard the other Slytherins erupting all around him.

Then Pansy let out a shriek and she jumped to her feet before clambering onto the bench and then up onto the table. Harry’s eyes widened as she knocked a goblet onto Blaise’s plate before leaping directly onto both him and Blaise with a peal of high-pitched laughter.

The force of Pansy’s high-flying tackle sent all three of them pitching back over the rear of the bench, and Harry’s foot kicked the table noisily on the way down.

“Bloody - Merlin’s - fucking -” Blaise spat, while Harry just groaned in pain as they hit the floor.

***

It was different, Harry realized, riding with the Slytherins on the train. They didn’t play Exploding Snap or Gobstones, and there wasn’t much laughter during the journey. Of course, that could have been because the ride was unusually somber, their joviality over winning the House Cup having already worn off.

Theo hadn’t heard a peep from the Ministry, so he was going home with Pansy and her family. Pansy’s mother was his aunt, after all, and it would be easier to fight the Ministry’s wishes should they decide to try to take him in.

Vince and Greg sat and listened to Tracey and Millicent as the two came up with ideas for making sure their mothers would be okay.

Draco, to Harry’s surprise, wouldn’t be staying at Malfoy Manor. Mrs. Malfoy had informed him that though they would stop there for a few hours to put a few things in order, she didn’t feel the house was safe. After all, Draco had made himself an enemy of the Dark Lord, and Mrs. Malfoy had no idea what Lucius had done to the building. They couldn’t be sure if Voldemort would show up there at any moment, and she’d rather not risk it.

After stopping at the Manor, they were going to be headed for Blaise’s house. Blaise had written to his mother on a whim after hearing what Mrs. Malfoy had sent to Draco, and to his surprise, she had agreed to allow them to stay, at least for that summer.

“Better for me,” Blaise said. “If she hears what Umbridge was planning and that I helped put a stop to it, she’ll be much less likely to murder me if there’s company about.”

Harry merely stared out the window, sightlessly watching the countryside pass them by. Ridiculously, he found himself a bit jealous of Draco. Despite the terrible circumstances, Draco was going to a different home, and Harry found that he craved that opportunity.

Instead, he, as usual, was headed back to the Dursleys.’

Draco’s fingers tightened around his. “Do you really have to go to the Muggles?” he asked quietly. “You could come with me and Mother…”

Harry shook his head. “I… I want to, but I shouldn’t.” Despite his anger at Dumbledore, he didn’t want to go completely out of Dumbledore’s reach. He knew that it was likely that he would need Dumbledore in order to find a way to defeat Voldemort.

Any means, Harry reminded himself unhappily.

“But -”

“I’m not planning on staying there for long,” Harry replied, and it was true. He’d already written to Andromeda, wondering if the offer Tonks had made was genuine, and Andromeda had replied with a confirmation. Harry was welcome at her house.

To his relief, she was apparently also speaking to a solicitor about Sirius. She wanted to ensure her cousin stayed in the Ministry’s holding cell rather than being transferred to Azkaban, but she also thought that Harry’s testimony could help Sirius out.

But more than anything, he wondered what kind of books Andromeda might have on the dark arts. She obviously still practiced them despite attempting to hide them from her daughter and husband. He’d exhausted the small collection he’d taken from Grimmauld Place, and he wanted to start digging into new books as soon as he possibly could.

He had to find some kind of magic that Voldemort didn’t know about, and he didn’t feel like he could waste a moment of time before getting started.

“If - or when - you wind up at my Aunt Andromeda’s, write to me,” Draco said. “And you took out another subscription to the Prophet, right? You’ll need to know when the news about what you did at the Ministry finally drops…”

“I did,” Harry said. “And I will.”

He hoped Andromeda would be able to guide him through what would happen when Harry’s darker inclinations were revealed to the wizarding world.

As the train rumbled on, Harry’s thoughts again turned to what he needed to learn, and he worried that Andromeda might not have what he was looking for. He supposed that even if she didn’t have any decently dark books, it would still be better than staying at the Dursleys.’

And if it turned out that she had nothing, Harry decided, he could always try to head back to Grimmauld Place.

After all, he already knew there was a well-stocked library there, behind a door on the top floor, at the end of a dimly lit hall.